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The story of the Princes in the Tower

One of the English Monarchy’s great unsolved mysteries: just what happened to the Princes in the Tower?

The mystery surrounding the fate of young brothers, Edward V of England and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York is still one that stands today. Many believe that the boys were murdered and continue to haunt rooms in the Bloody Tower.

The Bloody Tower is also home to the ghost of Sir Walter Raleigh and along with his famous sightings, Coldstream Guards claimed to have heard two young kids in 1990 laughing outside the tower, accompanied by a bouncing sound. Many others have seen the two young princes holding hands, hiding in fear in many different locations throughout the tower.

It is most commonly accepted that the princes were murdered by their uncle, the Lord Protector, Richard, Duke of Gloucester in an attempt to claim the throne for himself. The boys who were 12 and nine at the time had just lost their father, Edward IV of England, and Edward V ascended in his place. Richard was appointed to look after the children, where he kept them in the Tower of London in preparation for Edward’s coronation. Richard took the throne for himself, and no one ever saw the young princes again.

Most historians have agreed that the motivations for Richard killing the boys are more likely than any other theory. Richard III’s claim to the throne was not secure and attempts to rescue the princes from the Tower in which they were still believed to be living were made to restore Edward V to King of England. By late 1483, rumours of the boys death began to spread. Richard never made an attempt to change anyone’s mind or open an investigation.

The Princes in the Tower, by Samuel Cousins (died 1887), after Sir John Everett Millais (original 1878). Mezzotint. National Portrait Gallery

The Princes in the Tower.

It is unlikely that Richard murdered the princes himself as he was in the Yorkist heartlands when they disappeared. One of Richards men, who were guarding the tower were more likely to commit the crime. James Tyrrell, who fought for the House of York, was arrested by Henry VII’s troops in 1502, and it is believed that he admitted to killing the boys on behalf of Richard before his execution.

Aside from Richard there are two other likely suspects, Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham or Henry VII.

Henry Stafford was Richard’s right-hand man, but committing the murder of the two boys would mean he would have had to do this before November 1483 when he was executed. He was himself a descendant of Edward III and may have been hoping to claim the crown for himself, or he murdered them in a rage against Richard when he rebelled against him causing the case for his execution.

Once Henry VII became King, he set out to rid of any rival claimants to the throne, including the illegitimate son of Richard II, John of Gloucester. If the princes were still alive in 1485 when Henry took the crown, he likely would have had the boys murdered as well.

Many other theories include those of the boys escaping and leading different lives. Until history reveals itself we will just have to wonder.

In 1674, a work crew dug up a wooden box with two young skeletons close to the reported burial site by the White Tower. At the time, it was accepted that those were the princes, although it has never been proven. The bodies found were buried at Westminster Abbey by King Charles II four years later. In 1933, the bones of the bodies found were examined with the results coming back that they were the right age of the missing princes. However, no attempt was made to identify the sex of the bodies or cause of death.

So next time you are visiting the Tower of London and happen to come across two boys cowering in a corner of the Bloody Tower, do not fear, they are probably just as scared of you, as you are of them as they look for a place of peace to last for eternity.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia (2)

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